By Joe Beck
Teachers and students in the Northern Shenandoah Valley returned to classrooms this year with new security measures in place following last year's school shooting massacre in Connecticut.
Warren and Shenandoah counties have added school resource officers and Frederick County public schools are installing new equipment designed to keep intruders from gaining entry.
Ressie Jeffries Elementary School in Front Royal opened with a new resource officer, the result of Warren County being chosen as one of 27 jurisdictions to receive a state grant to pay for resource officers at schools that do not have them.
Melody Sheppard, assistant superintendent of administration for Warren County Public Schools, said Ressie Jeffries enrollment of more than 600 students -- the largest among the school system's elementary schools -- made it the logical choice to receive the additional resource officer. The other elementary schools enroll no more than 550, Sheppard said.
"I think our schools are very safe," Sheppard said. "We are putting into place procedures that parents and students should feel very confident about."
Ressie Jeffries opened with a substitute resource officer who will be replaced by the permanent officer when she completes her training in mid-September, Sheppard said.
The permanent officer is Jessica Reel, who was formerly an administrative assistant in the Warren County Sheriff's Office investigative division.
Sheriff Daniel T. McEathron said the other elementary schools in Warren County will continue to be patrolled by a school resource officer who makes stops at each of them.
Sheppard said the Warren County school system has also applied for a $100,000 grant that will pay for the installation of 50 to 60 additional security cameras for the elementary schools.
"All of our schools have exterior cameras and most have interior cameras as well," Sheppard said.
Kevin C. Castner, the acting superintendent of Shenandoah County Public Schools, described himself as "totally impressed" by the security measures he found in place when he took over in late June.
"Right now, they have set a standard I have not seen in other school systems," said Castner, who retired in 2006 as superintendent of schools in Charlottesville.
Castner said every school in Shenandoah County has a school resource officer this year, including Sandy Hook Elementary, the namesake of the Connecticut school where last year's mass shooting occurred.
Strasburg High School will continue to have a school resource officer assigned to it by the town police while the Sheriff's Office is posting resource officers at nearby Sandy Hook and Signal Knob Middle School.
Castner said each Shenandoah County school has a secured entrance and the capital improvements budget contains money for additional security improvements visitors will encounter after entering the school.
David Sovine, superintendent of Frederick County Public Schools, posted a lengthy letter to parents on the school system's website explaining new security measures and others likely to appear within a few months.
Some of the school system's older elementary schools are getting new doors and all the elementary schools have received improved hardware at their main entrances, Sovine said.
Senseny Road School and the Dowell J. Howard Center are also among those receiving new hardware.
The improved entrances will include a system that requires visitors to ring a buzzer, identify themselves over an intercom and state the reason they are visiting the school, Sovine said.
Schools may also require visitors to produce a driver's license or other form of identification, Sovine said.
Sovine said the buzz-in system may be expanded to the middle and high schools after administrators evaluate its performance.
Contact staff writer Joe Beck at 540-465-5137 ext. 142, or firstname.lastname@example.org